Tue. Apr 23rd, 2019

First were the complex societies, then the gods came | Science

First were the complex societies, then the gods came | Science


The idea of ​​an almighty god who watches over humans and punishes those who deviate from the norm arose after they left the tribe for society. That is the main conclusion of a large study that reviews the emergence of complex societies and the idea of ​​the moral god. From the ancient Egyptians to the Roman Empire, to the Hittites, the moral gods do not enter the scene until the societies do not really grow big.

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The belief in the supernatural is as old as humans. But the idea of ​​an omniscient being guarding morality is more recent. Before the Neolithic revolutions, the emergence of agriculture and the first societies, humans lived in relatively small groups based on kinship. In the tribe everyone knew each other and it must be difficult to have antisocial behavior without being piled up. The risk of being identified, punished or expelled from the group was enough to control it. But as societies became more complex, relations with strangers to the clan grew and, at the same time, the chances of escaping the sanction. For many scholars of religions, the appearance of a moral god who sees everything made of social glue, facilitating the emergence of increasingly larger companies.

"But what we have seen is that moralizing gods are nothing necessary for the establishment of large-scale societies," says the director of the Center for the Study of Social Cohesion at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom) and co-author of the study. , Harvey Whitehouse. "In fact, they only appear after the initial strong increase in social complexity, once the societies reach a population of around one million people," he adds.

The study uses 55 variables to measure the social complexity of 414 political entities

Along with a large group of scientists, the British anthropologist has analyzed 414 political entities emerged since the Neolithic. In the database, collected in the Seshat project, there are from cities like Ur to the Viking confederation of Iceland and empires like the Inca or the Achaemenid. To measure their complexity, they used up to 55 different variables, such as the existence of a stratification and social hierarchy, whether there was private property and the ability to transfer it, the development of agriculture or an army.

Your results, published in the magazine Nature, show that, by the time the moral gods appeared, most societies were already very complex. In fact, the political entities studied show an average increase in their social complexity up to five times greater before the arrival of these gods than after. It is only then that the moral god fulfills a social function: "Perhaps it is because, at this point, societies are so large that they become vulnerable to internal tensions and conflict." Moralizing gods could offer a way for societies continued to prosper despite such tensions, making everyone cooperate to avoid offending a superior power attentive to our behavior toward others and which was thought to punish transgressors, "Whitehouse points out as a possible explanation.

The Egyptian goddess Maat.
The Egyptian goddess Maat. Getty Images

The first ideas of a moral god arise in ancient Egypt, with the figure of Maat, the daughter of the god Ra. That was around 2800 before the current era, after several centuries that the first cities of the Nile Valley were unified. He is next on the temporary list, Shamash, the sun god who sees everything, of the Akkadian Empire, half a millennium after the emergence of Mesopotamian civilizations. The same pattern is observed with the Chinese deity Tian or the various gods of the kingdom of Hatti, in Anatolia. Already in the first millennium before this era appeared Mazodism or Zoroastrianism, Judaism and, already in the present, Christianity or Islamism. All are religions with moral gods emerged or evolved in already consolidated societies.

The first moral gods appear in ancient Egypt, in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and China

The study shows, however, that there can be highly complex societies without a moral god. That does not mean that they did not punish humans, but they did it more by failing to comply with divinity obligations than by offending other humans. Most are American or Southeast Asian.

"The sacrifices and gender norms of the Aztecs seem to be more focused on maintenance [de un orden] universal and individual improvement than in the establishment of religiously controlled customs in which moralizing gods threaten sanctions for improper interpersonal actions, "says the University of Texas archaeologist and co-author of the study, Alan Covey." Mayan texts they seem to show, at least in the realm of kings, that human raids and sacrifices were memorable events rather than acts for which a supernatural moral disapproval could be feared, "adds this archaeologist expert in pre-Columbian empires, particularly the Inca "This fits with the general features of the vision of the Andean world and the practices of local and state sacrifices of the Inca Empire," he concludes.

The study goes even further and believes to find a connection between the appearance of writing and the emergence of moral gods. In nine of the 12 regions of the planet analyzed, the first written records appear an average of 400 years before the first references to the moral gods. Combined with the absence of the idea of ​​the moral god in most oral cultures, "it suggests that these beliefs were not widespread before the invention of writing," says Whitehouse.

The Aztec, Mayan or Inca gods do not intervene in the moral of human relations

But not everyone thinks the same. The director of the Institute for the Science of Human History (Jena, Germany), the evolutionary biologist, Russell Gray, maintains: "Tests of moralizing gods are hard to find before the invention of writing, but that does not mean that There are none.The first writings were mainly documents on financial transactions, not on religious beliefs, "he adds. Gray, who has not participated in this study, is one of the greatest advocates that divine punishment understood in a broad sense is a precursor to political and social complexity. However, he acknowledges, "that the moral gods are a relatively recent creation."

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